Vampire Crush, page 10
“Really? That’s the best sob story I’ve got. What does a guy have to say to make you move all the way?”
When I don’t answer, he scoots forward, closing the distance himself and leaving me to stare dry-mouthed at the inch between our knees.
“Do you know that all the blood in your body just rushed to your cheeks?” he asks. “They’re glowing.”
My head jerks up. Without thinking, I clap my hands to the runaway body parts, which do feel a little bit warm.
“Whatever. It’s too dark to tell that,” I say with false bravado.
“Darkness doesn’t matter. One of the few benefits of my new condition.”
“I can see body warmth, pools of blood. And right now, your cheeks are two giant beacons.” He points at my face like I might not know which cheeks he means.
“I flush easily,” I say.
“Uh-huh,” he says, clearly a nonbeliever. Now seems like the perfect time for another subject change.
“So what other superpowers do you have?” I ask. “And if you say X-ray vision I am going to shoot myself.”
He doesn’t respond. It’s obvious that the question makes him uncomfortable—he sits up straighter and shifts his weight from side to side. Apparently I am going to have to play a guessing game. “If Vlad is any indication, I would say that you have powers of persuasion.”
“To an extent,” he says cautiously.
“And you’re stronger?”
“And you have heightened senses.”
“And you sparkle in the sunlight.”
His lips make the “yuh” shape, but then he does a double take. “What?”
“You, uh, sparkle?” I try again. When his bafflement fails to disappear, I begin to ramble. “I mean, now that I think about it, I’ve seen you in the sun and there doesn’t seem to be any glitter action. But aren’t you not supposed to go in the sun?” Someone really needs to step in and universalize vampire lore, pronto.
He continues to look at me as though I like to eat grass in my spare time. “Sunlight doesn’t kill us, but it makes us weaker. So does using any of our gifts,” he says, and the sarcasm is thick on the last word. “The more we use them the more we need to . . .”
“Need to what?” I prod.
“The more we need to drink,” he says.
My stomach lurches. While I knew that vampirism was a blood-sucking operation, this is James. James. He likes red licorice and banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches. I know this because he used to steal them out of my lunch box all the time and replace them with pieces of paper that said, “James: 1, Sophie: 0.”
I turn to study him in the moonlight. He has gone back to studying his shoes, but I can tell that he is watching me from the corner of his eyes. My mind is tossing up images of him bending over the ivory columns of exposed necks and snatching up rabbits in the woods. In these images he is dressed in a cape with red lining and a tailed tuxedo, not the T-shirt and jeans he’s wearing now.
Unconsciously, my fingers creep up to my neck. The puncture wounds have scabbed over into two bumps that are hard and curved like tiny turtle shells. Perhaps I should be more worried than I am.
“Yes,” James says darkly. “I do drink blood. But never yours. Never anyone alive’s really. Too dangerous. And . . . you know. Wrong.”
His voice startles me—I hadn’t thought that I said anything out loud. I look at him, confused.
“Er, right. We can sort of read thoughts when we’re close to someone. Sometimes. Occasionally. We have to be touching you if we want to go very deep. But it goes hand in hand with the mind-wiping thing that we should talk about.”
I know that I should be like, “Yes! Mind wiping! Please explain at length and in detail!” but right now I just feel like seeing if I can stuff myself beneath my bed for the rest of eternity. I frantically try to think back to the times we’ve been “close” in the last week. There was that first night in his backyard, and then today in the lunchroom, and then—
“Now,” James fills in helpfully.
I scoot sideways faster than anyone has ever scooted before, and I don’t stop until my back is against my bedroom door and there’s at least twelve feet between us.
“Oh, come on,” he says, “I haven’t picked up on anything embarrassing. Although it’s nice to know that someone thinks my arms are pretty.” His mouth starts to twitch. “Well, mine and Danny Baumann’s.”
Dear God. Danny Baumann was something that I had meant to take to my grave, unless that fantasy played out where we met at a twentieth high school reunion and he was blown away by my poise and reporting experience, and I got to spend a lifetime staring at him before we were buried side by side. Which would still mean taking him to my grave, actually. So yeah.
“This is not funny,” I say when I can finally speak. “This is an invasion of privacy. Stop it.”
“I would if I could,” he says. “It just happens. They say that you learn to control it as you get older—the other vampires can—but so far it’s been a year and it’s still going strong.” He rubs his eyes, suddenly weary. “I’m glad this came up, because we need to figure out what’s going to happen on Monday. Vlad will be expecting you to know nothing about what happened today in the woods. If you show the slightest ounce of mistrust, he will become suspicious, and I can’t predict what he’ll do next. If you haven’t noticed,” he says wryly, “he’s kind of a loose cannon.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Not think?”
“No. But if the way you followed four hungry vampires into the woods is any indication, you weren’t doing much of that this afternoon anyway.”
I hold up a finger. “Okay. One, I didn’t know they were vampires—I just thought they were part of some sort of weird cult thing. And two,” I add, because number one doesn’t sound all that smart in retrospect, “insults are not going to help me keep my neck intact. Seriously, what am I supposed to do?”
“There are things that make it harder for us to pick up anything.”
“I’ve noticed that if people are concentrating really hard on something, I don’t hear anything. It’s the stray thoughts that come through, the departures from regularly scheduled programming.” He stops, a new emotion flickering across his face. “Are you really going to keep hiding in the corner?”
“Can you hear me over here?”
“Then yes,” I say, and he frowns a little and looks away. I may not be able to read minds, but he’s obviously hurt, and that makes me feel guilty. Especially considering that the reason he’s here tonight, telling me all of this, is because he had to stop me from becoming Vlad’s very special Pringle.
Knowing I’m going to regret this later, I scoot back across the room until there are only a few inches between our knees.
“Okay, let’s practice. Try to tell what I’m thinking,” I say, but he’s already dropped his gaze to squint down at my legs.
“What are those? Dancing raisins?”
“Whales. And I would kind of like to focus on the tips and tricks to vampire mind defense right now, not my pajama decisions.”
“Fair enough,” he says and then leans forward, close enough that I can make out the green of his eyes. I’m suddenly distracted by his bottom lip, which really is very nicely shaped. And there’s a freckle punctuating the corner of his mouth that I can’t recall from our early years.
“That’s because I doubt you ever looked at my mouth this closely when we were eight,” he says.
I rear back. “I wasn’t ready!”
“Sorry. It’s not a one-two-three-go kind of situation.”
I point behind him. “Argh. Just . . . go to that side of the room.”
“You say you have to be close to hear anything, and since I can see Vlad coming, I should at least have two or three seconds to start concentrating. So go over
Reluctantly, he stands up and moves to the far wall, and I search for a topic. I could choose a subject like the weather or why I hate the word “pungent,” but that’s not going to prove that I can hide my thoughts when it really counts.
After I hop to my feet, he starts his re-approach. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on the things that I would never ever want to say aloud.
James, the fact that your new hobby is drinking blood does not disturb me nearly as much as it should. Also, you have grown up to be quite cute.
When I open my eyes, his chin is in front of me. I look up to find him staring down at me with patient attention and something else that I can’t quite define.
“It worked,” he says after a few moments. “Nothing but fuzz.”
“Yep. Complete blank. What were you thinking about?”
“Er, nothing important,” I say, staring up at him. When did he get so tall?
“Sophomore year,” he says and then winces. The brief courage that came from my previous success starts to crumble.
“How am I supposed to do this?” I ask.
“Avoid Vlad. Period.”
“But I have English with him! I mean, he sits in the front and I sit in the back, but—”
“It should still be fine,” he says, sounding about as reassuring as a doctor who’s just dropped his keys in his patient’s open heart cavity. “Like I said before, Vlad’s old enough that he won’t be picking things up unless he’s actively trying. Just try not to let him get too close.”
Realizing how close I am to James, I retreat to take a seat on the end of my bed. “What about Violet? She’s in my English class too.”
“Violet doesn’t use her powers very often. It’s draining, and she thinks blood drinking isn’t very ladylike. Besides, she has enough problems in her own head to worry about anyone else’s.”
“Harsh words for your girlfriend.”
“Ex-girlfriend,” he corrects quickly. “If that.”
James blinks in a way that would be cute if he were not being a dirtbag. “I don’t understand why you’re angry.”
“Maybe I just think you should be a little nicer to the girl who shared eternal life with you.”
He runs his hands through his hair, which I am quickly learning is his I-am-exasperated with-your-craziness tell. “Eternal life that I don’t want,” he stresses. “A girl that I don’t want. If we’re being completely honest, I want—”
I cut him off. “You should have thought of that before you let her give you an undead hickey. And while we’re at it, what’s so bad about eternal life? I mean, maybe it’s time to focus on the positives.”
“Besides sun headaches and the blood drinking and the insane company?” he says, and for the first time since we began, James is getting angry, honestly angry.
“And the superstrength,” I counter, “and the mind reading and the coolness factor and the—”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore!” he interrupts, walking over to look out the window. “I don’t even know how we got here. Let’s talk about something else.”
He’s right. Time to change the subject. “Okay,” I say. “What is Vlad doing here?”
James studies me for a few moments. “Vlad is looking for a girl,” he says finally.
“I got that much,” I say with hard-won patience. “What does this girl do? Fly?”
“Does he vant to suck her blood?”
James shrugs. “He hasn’t really kept us in the loop.”
Up until now, James has been nothing but an open book, keeping his gaze on me far more than my fluttery stomach can take. But now he’s deliberately turned away from me. As he pretends to peer out over his backyard, it strikes me that I recognize this pose from when we were kids; this is James keeping a secret.
“What don’t you want to tell me?” I ask.
Instead of answering, he walks across the room to the bulletin board that hangs over my dresser. Leaning forward, he points at the picture wedged in its corner. “Isn’t this that karate class they asked you to resign from? Are you the small, scowling one?”
This source is obviously tapped. “It’s late, and I am exhausted,” I say, and it’s not a lie. A weight has settled between my eyes, and the pillow on my bed is growing larger and more appealing. Like a giant fluffy marshmallow filled with Marshmallow Fluff.
“You’re kicking me out?” James asks, surprised.
“You seem to be done talking.”
A wave of irritation dims his features. “I didn’t know that I was just here for information.”
“You’re not! It’s just that I’m tired and I was attacked by vampires in the woods today and their leader seems to want me dead when he’s not too busy being the most popular person in the world, and I would just like to go back to sleep and forget about it for a little bit,” I finish, realizing that I’m not handling this well at all.
James watches me for a few moments. “Vlad’s not the most popular person in the world,” he says.
“In the vampire world he’s not popular at all. In fact, he’s an outcast. Persona non grata. If there were vampire restaurants, they would have signs that say, ‘No Stakes or Vlad.’”
If James had said that Vlad liked to wrap himself in cellophane and sing show tunes for fun, I couldn’t be more surprised. Considering his penchant for sticking his nose up in the air and acting better than everyone else, I assumed he was at the top of whatever food chain would take him.
“But why?” I ask.
James takes a seat in the desk chair, leans back, and looks at me with eyes that are too artificially wide to be innocent. “Do you still want me to leave?”
Well played, James, well played. For a brief second I wonder why he is so resistant to going home, although way back when, Marcie said that if he was over here more often they might as well adopt him.
“You can stay,” I say.
“Good,” he says, stretching and settling in. “The vampire world is built on hierarchy. Take the stupidity of high school, multiply it by eighteen, add a side of twisted, and you’ll end up with something close to what living in vampire society is like. There are hundreds of families, and every single one can tell you who ranks above and below them.”
“Vampire families? Like brother and sister?” I ask, thinking of Marisabel. Maybe they were siblings, kind of.
“Sort of. When you are made into a vampire you are reborn with the name of your maker, and you’re pretty much stuck with it. You can marry out of it, but that hardly ever happens—apparently most vampires would set themselves on fire rather than marry down.”
“Fifty dollars that Vlad’s name isn’t really ‘Smithson.’”
“Vlad doesn’t have a name. He was made by an Unnamed. They’re considered parasites in the vampire community, vampires that were made off the grid.”
“So . . . then you’re all Unnamed.”
“Pretty much. All of us that Vlad made.”
“Okay. But what does that actually mean? You don’t get chosen first for dodgeball?”
“More like we have no rights at all. At best we’re ignored, and at worst we’re killed. That’s why most Unnamed lay low; they’re the ones hiding in empty houses and creeping out only at night.”
In other words, exactly what James was doing before I lured him back to the exciting hallways of Thomas Jefferson. I look to James with a smile, expecting to find some sort of wry recognition, but he doesn’t seem to have made the connection.
“Vlad doesn’t seem like the laying-low type.”
“He didn’t for a long time—apparently when he was first made, he loitered a little too closely to the legitimate families and a lot of them wanted him dead. But then he cooked up this Danae scheme and has been working on that ever since.”
“How do you know that Neville is a part of it?”
“He has a tattoo with a ‘D.’ I’ve been investigating.”
James doesn’t look entirely thrilled by that revelation. “I don’t know all that much about it,” he says, “other than that it’s a sort of vampire secret society with members all over the world. There are official vampire courts, but the Danae is what really pulls the strings. Kind of like a high-class Mafia.”
“But then that means that Neville can’t be Unnamed. Why is he slumming it with Vlad?”
“He claims that the Danae is interested in seeing where Vlad’s search might lead. Vlad, of course, is thrilled. He thinks that if he finds this girl, they’ll make him a member.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of par for the course with Vlad.”
“No, I mean about Neville being a representative of the Danae. Because in our interview, he seemed pretty bitter about them. He said he wished he could remove the tattoo,” I say, but then shake my head. We’re getting off track. All I really need to know is who this girl is and why finding her will be enough to break through the social barrier. But when I ask James why they would care about finding her, he hesitates again, and I wonder what it is that makes him so close-lipped on this one subject.
“I think I’m going to turn in,” I say, faking a yawn.
James smiles. “I can see your belly button,” he says, and I immediately put my arms down, embarrassed at my blatant attempt at manipulation. We sit in an awkward silence, until he relents.
“I really don’t know that much about her,” he says. “Vlad’s only told us what he wants us to know. I know that she has some sort of star birthmark.”
“You’re kidding me. A star?” I ask. This sounds more like a My Little Pony than a person.
But James nods his head and confirms that yes, it’s a star. “And I know that she’s a sort of legend in the vampire community,” he continues. “I know that there are certain beliefs about her blood.”